In Finland one of the most important trees is the birch tree, unlike the pine
trees with their constant presence the birch tree flows with the natural life
and death cycles. The birch was the earliest tree to recolonize the land after
the ice age and is seen as a symbol of rebirth, springtime, regeneration and
purification. The name birch is thought to have derived from the Sanskrit bhurga
meaning 'a tree whose bark is used for writing upon'. Indeed during the war
many letters were sent using the bark as both the letter and the envelope. The
bark also has great waterproof qualities and must be removed or at least split
if you wish to use the wood for firewood but was invaluable for making canoes.
The name is also connected with the Anglo Saxon beorgan which means 'to protect
or shelter' and is thought to come from its uses in boat building and roofing.
Other descriptions for the tree are 'Mother of the Forest', 'The Tree of Venus'
and the 'Lady of the Woods'. As you can see it has a very powerful feminine
quality to it and is a traditional tree of healing.
In the spring I collect sap from the birch trees as it rises back up to deliver power, energy and valuable nutrients to produce the leaves. The sap can also be made into syrup much the same as maple syrup but not so sweet. I just drink it fresh, like a living water, for the life force energy and the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium and iron. It is also diuretic. As soon as the leaves start to appear the sap will cease to run. The removal of some sap does no harm to the trees.
Springtime cleansing wouldn't be the same with out the fresh leaves of the birch tree. The leaves make a great tea with a bitter taste useful for gout, rheumatism, oedema and for the dissolving of kidney stones. In fact the leaf infusion is very good for any ailments concerning the kidneys including infections and jaundice. Fresh leaves can also be crushed and minced and spread over the body on the area of the kidneys to enhance the effects of the internal remedy, this is especially good when they are then covered with a warm towel wrapped round a hot water bottle. Birch leaves infusion is also a natural remedy for pain and cramps. To make an infusion take a handful of leaves, pour boiling water over them and leave them for about 15 minutes. For kidney ailments and especially for flushing out in the springtime take the tea three times daily.
I've also read that the leaves are anti bacterial and reduce cholesterol. Birch oil is especially good for skin conditions especially if you add it to the steam water in the sauna.Here in Finland we have confectionary made with xylitol, a sweetener extracted from the birch tree which actually prevents tooth decay and in some cases it has been said to undo and repair the damage. A miraculous tree indeed
The rune beorc is the symbol for the birch and is a fertility symbol, drawn
as a B but with straight lines it resembles a woman's breasts. It was the ancient
symbol of fertility and the phallic maypole danced round as a symbol of new
life in the spring is generally made from birch. I made my own set of runes
from birch wood because of its healing qualities. Here in Finland at midsummer
the entrance to the home is decorated with young birch branches which stems
from an old custom to bring good fortune and to avert malevolent influences.
The Yule log is also traditionally a birch log. The term 'given the birch' comes from the old tradition of punishment where someone was flogged with birch branches to drive the evil out of them.
Nowadays in the sauna we make twitches, known as vasta or vihta from birch twigs and use them to gently hit each other or ourselves to stimulate circulation and relax the muscles but which originated with the act of cleansing ourselves from evil spirits. Easter in Finland has now amalgamated Eastern and Western traditions and now both willow and birch twigs get decorated with brightly coloured paper and feathers and are sold to people by sooty faced children and witches reciting good luck poems. In the east people are whipped with them to cleanse after the long winter.
The chaga mushroom known for its anti cancer qualities feeds on and derives these antimutagenic properties from the white bark of the birch tree. It inhibits free radical oxidation which is very important in cancer therapy and it also induces the production of interferons which are an active part of DNA repair and balancing cell metabolism. It has been used in local medicine for the past 400 years as a cancer remedy.
It's little wonder that living here surrounded by so many birch trees that there is a special healing quality to the atmosphere. Just the very look of the tree is beautiful with its elegant white trunk and graceful branches, little wonder it is thought of as representing a Goddess.